Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Future of Australian E-Learning: It's All about Access

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Future of Australian E-Learning: It's All about Access

Article excerpt

Introduction

"The story of the adoption of technology is as old as humankind itself. We invent something, we use it, we become accustomed to it..." (Mackay, 1999)

Laptops, smart phones and smart devices appear to be everywhere and many universities are gearing their unit content and information delivery to this new technology (Dobbin et al, 2011). Classrooms, corridors and railway carriages are seemingly full of people working, studying or playing using the latest version of their device of choice. Appearances, however, can be deceptive. The simple fact is that some do not have the opportunity or ability, financial or otherwise, to become accustomed to new technology. By extension, this means they do not have access to relevant services and thus their opportunity to learn is greatly reduced. This lack of engagement by a not inconsiderable portion of the Australian population will have a negative effect for the digital economy and the economy as a whole (Cradduck, 2011).

The operation of the internet is comparable to the operation of a super-road network. Existing Australian broadband infrastructure, however, is more akin to its disjointed rail networks, where the gauge, and trains, changes at state borders. For Australian broadband to achieve super-road status the National Broadband Network ('NBN') must be rolled-out as soon as possible and, until this achieved, existing networks must work in harmony with one another. However, rollout of the network is but part of the access puzzle. Ability to access services also is required. The Australian physical and digital divides mean many have only limited access to infrastructure. Equally, many Australians are neither digitally empowered nor e-literate. This restricts their engagement in the digital economy and learning. Of relevance to the NBN and e-Learning is finding an answer to Mitchell's (1999) question--"Who will get access, and when?" To this can be added the question--How to enable access?

Of Australia's 21+ million residents, (ABS, 2012) only 11.6 million are internet subscribers. This figure includes both business and home users. (ABS, 2011) Of these subscribers, 96% have broadband access via either mobile, satellite or fixed line connections. However, almost half a million (473,000) only have dial-up access. Most of these are home users but not all. (ABS, 2011) Appreciating that many persons may utilise one subscription service; this still leaves a sizeable proportion of the population unconnected. Further, slower access speeds impede download and upload ability. In the digital age, dial-up clearly is no longer an appropriate means of accessing the internet and WWW (Cradduck, 2011). In combination with these statistics, available census data shows that less than one quarter of all Australians are engaged in some form of higher education (ABS, 2012). As is discussed below, lack of access and lack of skills can impede e-learning and the adoption of the NBN. It also will negatively affect Australia's digital economy.

Factors impacting upon internet use and the rollout of the NBN will impact upon e-Learning delivery; this in turn, unless supported, will adversely impact on the adoption of the NBN. As La Rose et al, (2007) asked "how to improve educational attainment without improving educational access through broadband adoption?" (La Rose et al, 2007: 361). In order to give perspective to the issues the paper commences with a brief overview of e-Learning and the importance of the internet for education. The paper then outlines the importance of education for the internet before identifying issues facing e-Learning and the NBN.

The paper concludes with a discussion of the importance of the NBN to e-Learning, as a means of overcoming the current divides within Australia and reinforces its position as an enabler of access. Matters such as the connection of the technology itself with student learning and success; (Nora & Snyder, 2008) and how to appropriately support students, (Brown et al, 2012) are beyond the scope of this paper. …

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